“Ladies and gentlemen, Welcome aboard Trailblazer flight 119. If you’re looking for a flight full of adventure, Plane is your movie. If you’re looking for drama or action, Plane is your movie, though we might encounter some rough air there. Please ensure that your seats are upright and tray tables are stowed. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.”
Jean-François-Richet’s Plane, stars Gerard Butler as Captain Brodie Torrance.
When we first meet Torrance, decked out in his full captain’s uniform, he is in a hurried state, trying to get through airport security in Manilla. This is where a gag intended to run throughout Charles Cumming’s and J. P. Davis’ script (story by Cumming) involves Torrance’s I.D. badge. You’d think Torrance is unreliable because he is hurried in conversations with his daughter, Daniela (Haleigh Hekking). He is anything but, as Richet lulls us into this adventure.
Eventually, he clears security, but this is the least of his problems. Or our worries.
Plane is the type of film audiences clamor for. Check your baggage at the box office, turn off your mind, sit back, and relax. What follows is a story with a solid runway, decent action, and overwrought drama involving characters that don’t develop and situations that, while realistic in the modern age, can’t keep this Plane aloft. More on that in a minute.
See, I am a fan of aviation disaster films. No, I’m not combing crashes for evidence; I like the overwrought human drama the classic Airport series evokes. Even dopey modern movies like Turbulence appeal to me. Plane, instead, involves the human drama of survival and a redemptive story for Torrance.
Butler is convincing as Torrance; his only concern is getting his passengers out of this developing situation safely, and he won’t take crap from any passenger. Of course, he won’t take crap from a passenger, yet, when he suggests rerouting the flight around a storm that they are already aware of, the local Trailblazer senior captain denies the request, and he demurs. The film explains this but doesn’t reflect how the character handles himself. This only happens after Torrance meets his first officer, Samuel Dele (Yoson An, Mulan), for the first time on the flight deck, an activity usually completed in the Pilot’s Briefing Room long before they board the aircraft. To be fair, the story doesn’t waste much time building on the impediments that get them in their situation in the first place.
After Trailblazer 119 encounters the storm, its navigation, radio systems, and cockpit displays fried, Torrance has one objective – to get the 14 passengers down safely. Among the passengers is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter, Marvel’s Luke Cage), a prisoner being escorted back to the United States for extradition.
Set in the Jolo island cluster of the Philippines, the stranded passengers encounter a band of pirates led by Dantu Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor; The Punisher). Plane finds its ground in Taylor, who is as fearsome as Dantu, though he does not count on the camaraderie between Torrance and Gaspare. They get in his way as the action kicks in, fueled by adrenaline. “But they say redemption can be found in the most unusual places,” states Gaspare at one point. Redemption is a possibility for Gaspare, but it is a certainty for Torrance, who carries an incredible feeling of responsibility for his passengers, as any captain would. This is where the realism and experience Gerard Butler brings to so many of his films is employed.
That, and his Scots accent.
This is also where the challenges with the script started. Even though the crash, the drama, and the ensuing action are interconnected through Torrance, each of the three elements is disjointed and isolated; Plane feels as if it thought its throughline wasn’t enough of a rivet to hold itself together.
As Dantu captures the passengers, the Trailblazer executive staff tries to locate the airplane (remember, no power and no radio, so there is no way for the downed plane to communicate with the outside world). They bring in Tony Goldwyn’s Scarsdale, a former special forces operative turned corporate troubleshooter. You’d never know from the suit he wears or the smile he carries that he was special forces, but for his body language, Goldwyn sells the role, glibly saying he “can solve the problems you can’t solve” to the airline executives. It is within the situation room that we witness who Torrance is.
The action kicks into high gear as a rescue effort is eventually mounted. However, given the island’s isolated location, the Rambo-level lethality of the third act takes away some of the redemptive angles the film was going for. The rescue effort isn’t The Delta Force-level either, and Butler isn’t Chuck Norris. That isn’t Plane‘s intent. The key to Torrance is that he’s an everyday, working-class pilot who owns up to his responsibilities.
Aiding Butler, in that regard, is Brendan Galvin’s cinematography. The confines of the 727 and the isolation of Julu visually define the story, opening the audience up to the real-world dangers Torrance faces. The editing from David Rosenbloom isn’t flashy; Plane is cut-and-dry as Galvin and Rosenbloom put us into Torrance’s shoes, defining Plane‘s foundation.
We’re drawn to Dantu’s piracy and Torrance’s ethics when we get to these points in the film. Richet’s direction is consistent; Butler plays Torrance with confidence that I didn’t expect. Because I don’t watch much television, I didn’t know what to expect from Colter, who gives a solid performance, even if his character doesn’t seem menacing for someone who supposedly committed murder.
The film gestated in pre-production for many years, and you can feel the “too many chefs, not enough cooks” syndrome bearing down on the script. Because I am a fan of airplane disaster classics, action films, and dramas, I should have been the perfect audience for Plane. With a solid foundation in Torrance, the story’s isolated elements of action, drama, and disaster don’t align.
As a survival film, Plane’s realism ratches up the tension. As a disaster film, I’d question the realities of the aviation procedures depicted. The abilities of a problem solver to get the resources needed to mount the featured rescue happen in the real world. The action is deft and swift, even if they are heavy-handed.
The drama, though, is where Plane builds its flawed foundation, focused on one individual – Torrance. Butler sells the role. By isolating the plot from one individual whose personality is as isolated as the island they land on, the drama improves at the expense of the secondary characters, who become less essential to the immediacy of their situation. However, Joey Slotnick’s Sinclair, a passenger on the flight, gets the sniveling right, at least. A better balance between plot mechanics and character development would have allowed Plane to soar. As it sits, it’s as troubled as Trailblazer 119.